Welcome to the Nishma Policy Blog


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Need for Policy

The purpose of this blog is to further the Torah discussion on policy issues, societal matters which must be approached from a macro-perspective. The nature of Halacha is generally to focus on the detail, on a specific act or event from a micro-perspective. The result is often that the macro-perspective, which also has a place in the overall halachic worldviews, is overlooked. The goal of this blog is to bring this perspective back into the focus.

An example of a Torah policy debate which may reflect this perspective is the debate between Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva on one side and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel on the other in regard to capital punishment as presented in T.B. Makkot 7a. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva said that if they were ever on a beit din that had to adjudicate a capital offense they would never execute anyone. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel argued that this would have a disastrous effect of increasing the possibility of murder. From a strict halachic perspective, there could be no issue with Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva. They would not be violating any halachot. What they were saying was, as judges, within the realm of their legitimate roles, they would always be able to find a way to exonerate the person -- and this is totally acceptable. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel does not argue that halachically they do not have this right but, rather, is presenting a policy argument that, from the macro-perspective, this would not be a good policy to follow. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva obviously disagree with this policy perspective, adopting another one that believes it to be more correct, from the macro-perspective, to not carry out capital punishments. This is still a Torah debate, demanding an investigation of Torah sources, but on the different level of policy. It is such investigations that we wish to highlight in the blog.

Further on our present need for policy analysis within the Torah world, please see my article "The Need for Policy" at http://www.nishma.org/articles/commentary/policy.html

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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